The former president George W Bush called for the United States lawmakers to debate immigration reform “with a benevolent spirit”. Speaking at the opening of a conference on immigration and economic growth he also called on the United States’ government to bear in mind immigrant’s contribution to building the United States.

Bush was speaking at the launch of a day-long conference, on Tuesday, sponsored by his namesake George W. Bush Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

He told the conference, “As our nation debates the proper course of action relating to immigration, I hope we will do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants.”

He added, “America is a nation of immigrants.

“Immigrants have helped build the country that we have become, and immigrants can help build a dynamic tomorrow."

Bush added that immigrants bring new ideas and skills to the United States and fill a critical gap in the country’s labor market. He continued, “America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time."

During his presidency, which ended in 2008, Bush advocated for immigration reform. This included ramped-up border security and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States. However despite his push, and work of other lobbyists including the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), the immigration reform died in Senate in 2007.

Now, with the reelection of Barack Obama, immigration reform has made its way to the fore once more. In fact House Republicans vowed to get serious about overhauling the “dysfunctional” immigration system after their failure at the polls with the Hispanic community during the recent election.

Last summer Barack Obama’s administration introduced the Deferred Action Program. This allows those undocumented immigrants, brought into the country when they were children, to remain in the United States and work legally. This is thought to be among the reasons that Barack Obama won 66 percent of the Hispanic vote in the United States.

Read more: Over 72,0000 undocumented immigrants apply for deportation relief

Coverage of Bush’s most recent comments suggests that the Republicans may be altering their views on immigration reform. Newsweek commented, “If anyone doubts that Republican rhetoric is now firmly focused on the benefits of immigration, check out the latest comments.”

Michelle Mittelstadt, spokeswoman for the Migration Policy Institute, told the Associated Press it was significant that Bush is speaking about the issue at a time. She said, “there's a lot of soul-searching in the Republican Party about what sort of policy decisions it should be taking on immigration.”

She added, "Though he didn't succeed” on achieving immigration reform during his tenure “he has a long track record of working on this issue.”

The executive director of the Bush Institute, James K. Glassman, said when the institute was looking at policy areas that could help grow the United States economy, immigration was one of the points that emerged.

He said, "We need to attract the best and brightest and keep them here.”

Here’s a video of George W Bush speaking at the opening of the conference

Former President George W. Bush gives opening remarks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas for a conference titled "Immigration and 4% Growth: How Immigrants grow the U.S. Economy," Tuesday, Dec. 4,AP Photo/LM Otero